As the Supreme Court begins its annual term on Oct. 3, I'd like to share suggestions below on how legal reformers -- our team, in other words -- can be much more effective in achieving results. That's the dream. But reformers face huge challenges that require new approaches to fight due process violations and other wrongdoing that appears to extend high into the legal system.
These coalesce in the person of Clarence Thomas -- associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and someone whom the FBI should vigorously investigate.
Like many, I thought about due process issues a lot after
Georgia executed Troy Davis on Sept. 21 despite powerful evidence casting doubt
on the witness identifications in the fatal shooting of
an off-duty policeman in a parking lot. I published a column, "Troy
Davis, Clarence Thomas and Georgia on Our Minds." Then organizers of an
Oct. 1 street rally in Washington, DC asked me to suggest practical next steps
following hundreds of thousands of petition signatures protesting the execution.
The day after my talk at the rally I attended the annual Red Mass ceremonies in Washington celebrating the law's spiritual dimensions. Led by Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Catholic church leaders hosted six of the nine Supreme Court Justices -- including Thomas and a probably a majority of those who allowed Georgia to execute Davis. Other guests included White House Chief of Staff William Daley, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
At first impression, Saturday's street rally
had little in common with the magnificent service Sunday about 15 blocks away
at the upscale Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. The 50 or so at the street
rally were primarily black, modestly dressed, and strongly left-wing in politics.
About half wore an "I am Troy Davis" sticker or similar tee-shirt to show solidarity with the condemned man. Via a taped jailhouse WPFW interview before his death, they heard Davis speak humbly about his wasted life, innocence and hopes for young people to learn from his mistake of hanging with the wrong crowd because it seemed "cool."The audience at the Catholic service, by contrast, appeared to be about 1,000 in size and at least 95% white. The absence of all three female Supreme Court justices, each of whom is a Democrat, underscored a political dimension.
More generally, the ceremony began with a magisterial procession of clergy and government
officials. Incense and beautiful music soon filled the huge cathedral, which
was built in 1899 and is famous for, among other things, the 1963 funeral of
But here's why common ground is both possible and points the way to reform. Let's start with my suggestions to the Troy Davis supporters:
1. Keep reaching out with one-on-one
conversations, petitions, demonstrations and pressure for legislation.
2. Confront rights violations and corruption wherever trail leads -- even to the top or within our own "Team"
3. Expand "The Team" by gaining new allies.
4. Become the media, don't wait for it.
5. Keep fighting for what's right.
The ideas may seem obvious, but several twists are described below
To begin, I told those at the rally how my involvement with
the Troy Davis and other death penalty protests began with word-of-mouth
encouragement from friends, as described in my column
last week. Private communications from trusted sources are an obvious way to
prepare for rallies, petitions and protests -- including such current ones as
"Occupy Wall Street" occurring now in New York, a similar protest
planned to begin Oct. 6 in Washington and others described here on OpEd News that are popping up nationally.
Defend Due Process and Fight Corruption
Much harder is my second suggestion to probe even when suspicions involve high-ranking officials -- and even those within our own political party or "team" suspected of serious shortcomings or fraud.
Last week, 20 congressional Democrats demanded a Justice Department investigation of Thomas, a Republican. Republicans should also support such a probe to clear the air on such claims. I published here last week an overview of the financial elements of the story. But vastly more information is available that deserves official review.
Many civic reform groups are taking a pass on the allegations against Thomas and officials like him because of tactical, financial or partisan reasons. They wait for someone else to suggest corruption, not simply error, by officials who are high up on the power structure -- even when many commoners are imprisoned around the country for roughly similar conduct.
I've heard the excuses, but don't buy them. The public is
fed up with Washington corruption, cover-up and partisanship. The slogan "Lead,
follow or get out of the way" has never been more timely.